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What Do Bar Examiners Do?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2014
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Bar examiners are officials whose job it is to write and administer portions of the bar examination. Almost every country with a legal system has a bar examination to determine the minimum competency of lawyers. Once a student has finished his legal studies, he must pass his jurisdiction’s bar exam in order to be admitted as a lawyer and practice law. It is the bar examiners who set up the exam, ensure that it is administered properly, and ultimately grade submissions. The specifics of what bar examiners do and how they are selected varies widely from country to country, and even from state to state.

Some countries have national bar exams, but not all do. In the United States, legal practice is regulated at the state level. Each state has its own board of bar examiners or committee of bar examiners who administer a state-specific bar exam. State bar examiners determine both the content and the requirements for their state’s exam. They can decide, for instance, that one needs to have a law degree from an accredited law school to sit for the bar examination, and they determine whether or not test-takers can use laptop computers to type and submit their answers. One of the only things that state bar examiners cannot determine is the date on which the exam is given, as every state administers its bar exam on the same day.

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In most cases, a bar examiner selects the types of questions that the exam will ask, and determines a scoring rubric for assessing which answers should be considered passing. Examiners also score the completed exams, and report the results to their state’s bar association. If a test-taker appeals his score, it is the state examiners who must evaluate the controversy and re-grade the exam, if necessary.

Most U.S. states’ bar exams are composed of both state-specific and national elements. National exams, such as the multi-state professional responsibility exam, the multi-state bar exam, the multi-state essay exam, and the multi-state performance test, are written and administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). States usually require one to three of these national exams, but some do not require any.

Along with administering the four national exams, the NCBE also maintains information on each state’s individual requirements, and acts as a clearinghouse for bar exam information for all 50 states. The NCBE tracks exam statistics and compiles year-to-year score databases. One of the NCBE’s primary goals is to ensure reasonable, equitable, and competitive standards for bar admission nationwide.

What it takes to become a bar examiner varies widely by jurisdiction. Many U.S. bar examiners are lawyers themselves, and have successfully passed at least one bar exam in the past. Whether an examiner needs to be personally familiar with the bar exam is a matter for the state's or country’s government to decide. Bar examiners have an important job no matter where it is they work, and in many ways they act as gatekeepers to the global legal profession.

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